A large, tawny-colored mammal of the cat family having a long, tufted tail. The distinctive shaggy mane of the male begins to grow when the animal is about three years old. Although now extinct in Palestine, anciently lions were very plentiful there. They were found in the area of the Anti-Lebanon and Hermon ranges (Song of Sol. 4:8), the thickets along the Jordan (Jer. 49:19; 50:44; Zech. 11:3), and in “the land of distress and hard conditions,” that is, the wilderness to the S of Judah.—Isa. 30:6; compare Deuteronomy 8:15.
There were times when shepherds had to protect the flock from lions. David on one occasion courageously struck down a lion and rescued the sheep it had taken. (1 Sam. 17:34, 35) This, however, was exceptional. Frequently even “a full number of shepherds” could not frighten away a maned young lion. (Isa. 31:4) Sometimes the shepherd recovered merely a portion of the domestic animal from the lion’s mouth (Amos 3:12), thereby enabling him to present the needed evidence to free him from having to make compensation.—Ex. 22:13.
Although David, Samson and Benaiah single-handedly killed lions (Judg. 14:5, 6; 1 Sam. 17:36; 2 Sam. 23:20), others did not escape the lion’s paw. (2 Ki. 17:25, 26) Jehovah used lions to execute his judgment on a prophet who had disobeyed him (1 Ki. 13:24-28) and on a man who refused to cooperate with one of His prophets.—1 Ki. 20:36.
The Scriptures repeatedly allude to the characteristics and habits of the lion, including its thunderous roar and its growling. (Prov. 19:12; 20:2; Amos 3:4, 8) The animal does well in its pacing (Prov. 30:29, 30), dashing toward its prey at a speed of about forty miles (64 kilometers) an hour. Its strength is proverbial. (Judg. 14:18; Prov. 30:30) A single blow from the lion’s powerful paw is enough to break the neck of a small antelope. The lion can kill and carry animals larger than itself, and its short, strong jaws are equipped with teeth of sufficient strength to break large bones. (Ps. 58:6; Joel 1:6; Isa. 38:13) Little wonder that the lazy man is depicted as excusing his failure to act with the words: “There is a lion outside!” (Prov. 22:13; 26:13) However, being carnivorous, lions may perish for lack of prey. (Job 4:11; see also Psalm 34:10.) And a “live dog [although despised] is better off than a [once majestic but now] dead lion.”—Eccl. 9:4.
The lion generally spends part of the day sleeping in its lair and does its hunting at night. In procuring its food, the animal either resorts to ambush or stalks its prey until close enough to make a short rush. (Job 38:39, 40; Ps. 10:9; Lam. 3:10) After making a kill, the lion usually devours part of the meat immediately, hiding or guarding whatever may remain to be eaten later. During the time the female is nursing the cubs, the male supplies her with food, and later assists the female in bringing game to the den for the cubs. Not until the young lions are half grown or even older do they actually participate in the hunt, at which time they really learn how to tear apart prey.—Ezek. 19:2, 3; Nah. 2:11, 12; see also Psalm 7:2; 17:12.
Lions have long been hunted by man. Pits and nets were employed to capture them. (Ezek. 19:3, 4, 9) In ancient Assyria, hunting lions was a favorite sport of the monarch. Either on horseback or in his chariot, the king, armed with bow and arrows, pursued the lions.
Hungry lions were anciently used to inflict capital punishment. Protected by Jehovah’s angel, the prophet Daniel escaped this fate. (Dan. 6:16, 17, 22, 24; compare Hebrews 11:33.) In the first century C.E., the apostle Paul was delivered from the “lion’s mouth,” either literally or figuratively.—2 Tim. 4:17.
ORNAMENTAL AND FIGURATIVE USE
Engraved lions ornamented the sidewalls of the copper carriages designated for temple use. (1 Ki. 7:27-36) And the figures of twelve lions lined the steps leading up to Solomon’s throne, in addition to the two lions that were standing beside the armrests. (1 Ki. 10:19, 20) Also, the temple seen in vision by Ezekiel was adorned with cherubs having two faces, one of a man and the other of a maned young lion.—Ezek. 41:18, 19.
Most of the Scriptural references to the lion are figurative or illustrative. The entire nation of Israel (Num. 23:24; 24:9), and individually the tribes of Judah (Gen. 49:9) and Gad (Deut. 33:20), were prophetically compared to lions, representative of invincibility and courage in righteous warfare. (Compare 2 Samuel 17:10; 1 Chronicles 12:8; Proverbs 28:1.) Jehovah likens himself to a lion in executing judgment on his unfaithful people. (Hos. 5:14; 11:10; 13:7-9) And God’s foremost judicial officer, Jesus Christ, is “the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah.” (Rev. 5:5) Appropriately, therefore, the lion, as a symbol of courageous justice, is associated with Jehovah’s presence and throne.—Ezek. 1:10; 10:14; Rev. 4:7.
Because of the lion’s fierce, rapacious and predatory characteristics, the animal was also used to represent wicked ones (Ps. 10:9), persons who oppose Jehovah and his people (Ps. 22:13; 35:17; 57:4; Jer. 12:8), false prophets (Ezek. 22:25), wicked rulers and princes (Prov. 28:15; Zeph. 3:3), the Babylonian World Power (Dan. 7:4) and Satan the Devil. (1 Pet. 5:8) And the seven-headed, ten-horned wild beast out of the sea, which derives its authority from Satan, was depicted as having a lion’s mouth. (Rev. 13:2) At Psalm 91:13 the lion and the cobra seem to denote the power of the enemy, the lion being representative of open attack and the cobra of underhanded scheming, cunning.—Compare Luke 10:19; 2 Corinthians 11:3.
At the time the Israelites returned to their homeland in 537 B.C.E., Jehovah evidently protected them from lions and other rapacious beasts along the way. (Isa. 35:8-10) In the land itself lions and other predators doubtless had increased during the seventy years of its desolation. (Compare Exodus 23:29.) But, evidently due to Jehovah’s watch care over his people, the Israelites and their domestic animals apparently did not fall prey to lions as had the foreign peoples whom the king of Assyria settled in the cities of Samaria. (2 Ki. 17:25, 26) Therefore, from the standpoint of the Israelites, the lion was, in effect, eating straw like a bull, that is, doing no harm to them or their domestic animals. (Isa. 65:18, 19, 25) Under Messiah’s rulership, however, there is to be a greater fulfillment of the restoration prophecies. Thus, both in a literal and a figurative sense peace will exist between lions and domestic animals. Persons who may at one time have been of a beastly, animalistic, vicious disposition will be at peace with more docile fellow humans and will not seek to do them harm or injury.—Isa. 11:1-6; see BEASTS, SYMBOLIC.